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Malcolm Rigby talks to Pieminister business creators at their shop in Stokes Croft in Bristol

PUBLISHED: 20:14 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:11 20 February 2013

Tuck into a tasty pie

Tuck into a tasty pie

In the space of four short years a small company, based in Stokes Croft in Bristol, has won a multitude of awards, gained a reputation for excellence, generated a growing wholesale business and opened a series of retail shops around the country, a...

Malcolm Rigby talks to Pieminister business creators at their shop in Stokes Croft in Bristol





Pieminister www.pieminister.co.uk is the creation of Jon Simon and chef Tristan Hogg. Jon says: "Tristan is very much hands-on. It's a big process, all the new product development. He does all that very much himself. He's in the kitchen every day. He deals with the manufacturing and I deal with the sales, marketing and retail side of it, so I'm much more front-of-house. He makes them, I sell them, basically."



The inspiration came from Australia where, apparently, decent quality pies are standard fare. Both had travelled down under and were keen to determine whether the concept could be transported to Britain. In a year of researching local food resources, Tristan experimented with 200 pies, and after a lot of enjoyable tasting whittled it down to eight varieties. That number has since grown to 10 and there are also seasonal variations.



The plan was to focus on wholesale, selling to pubs, restaurants and delis, and use the shopfront in Stokes Croft and then the Glass Arcade www.stnicholasmarketbristol.co.uk, Corn Street, as a way of testing the food with the public. Perhaps most surprising is how eclectic the clientele is. This is where baseball cap rubs with collar and tie.



"When we opened we thought we'd get loads of students and rugby lads as our core customers," Jon says. "But it's not the case at all. You get big tables full of women, you get families, the older generation, you get everybody... it's a real mix, which shows the broad appeal of the pie."



The range, made from fresh, local produce, varies from the traditional 'pm pie' of steak, kidney and ale, to the exotic 'matador pie' of beef, chorizo, olives, tomato, sherry and butter beans.



"One thing I have noticed," Jon continues, "is that when you give someone a good pie they get really excited about it. We've got about a thousand letters or e-mails from people saying... well, it's fan mail basically, which is quite weird really for a business that makes pies."



The pastry, the content, the gravy (or the 'groovy' as they call it) and the mash are constantly being perfected. Jon confesses that they didn't appreciate just what a science there was to pastry making when they first started. The process is as secret as the recipe for Coca Cola but he does confide that they use butter not margarine, have a different pastry for the top and bottom and they cook in tins for a deeper baking.



"Everything's evolving. We're very critical about what we do, we're learning all the time. We certainly weren't experienced pie makers when we went in to the business. It's not just new products, we're developing all the time, and hopefully the quality gets better.



"It's very encouraging the way that people have bought into the whole idea. When we first started (and a few others have come to the marketplace since we've been around) it was a new concept really. To have lots of different flavours is a very modern take on the traditional pie and mash.




These are no ordinary pies. They are hand-made and lovingly produced with the finest ingredients




"As a result of everything we do, the free-range, the labour-intensive baking and the organic stuff, it works out as an expensive product, but the flavouring is very different to what you normally get. So to actually get people to spend a bit more and buy into the quality side of things is great. There's been a big cultural shift towards better-quality food, food miles and just caring about where your food comes from. Something that we've been pushing since we started, so it's good the message is getting out there.



"It's nice to get some accreditation from people in the food industry. All of our core range has won a gold medal in the Guild of Fine Food www.finefoodworld.co.uk Great Taste Awards. Once you've done that you can't get much better. We started off getting bronzes and silvers and now eventually they've all got golds, which shows that the quality is actually improving.



"A lot of the time when you start to make more of something the quality tends to slip, you start making compromises. We feel we've done it the other way, which is nice."



With all this acclamation it's not surprising that they've had some interest from the big boys, although Jon says: "We've had all the supermarkets banging on the door, but we've turned them away for a number of reasons. One, we didn't start off to do that. We haven't really had the capacity to do that sort of thing seriously. We do a little bit of stuff with Waitrose, but just regionally, and that's a sort of test bed for us.



"I'm very happy dealing with all the little independents - they're nice to speak to on the phone." Jon laughs. He laughs a lot, but then he has good reason - he has a fine range of pies and a booming business.



With summer here, Jon and the pies will be hitting the festivals scene. So if you're at Glastonbury www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk later this month make a point of trying one. BY MALCOLM RIGBY



Pieminister has two shops in Bristol, at Stokes Croft and Corn Street. For more information visit www.pieminister.co.uk or call 0117 942 3300.



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